DollarKeyboardA buddy of mine recently asked what he should get for his home studio if he only had $50 to spend. As I was coming up with options for him, I thought this would make a great article!

Everyone is trying to make smart choices with his/her money. Here are ten ways to improve your studio without breaking the bank:

1. Planet Waves Pro-Winder – $10

This is one of the niftiest little gadgets. If you are a guitarist, or if you have guitarists coming into your studio, this will make string-changing a breeze. It’s got a built-in peg-winder, wire cutter, AND bridgepin puller. Finally your session won’t come to a screeching halt after breaking a string, while you spend thirty minutes looking everywhere for your wire cutters.

2. M-Audio SP-2 Sustain Pedal – $25

You can easily spend a lot of money on a sustain pedal. I chose this one because:

  • It’s only $25.
  • It feels like a sustain pedal should (as opposed to those little square sustain pedals). Don’t underestimate how a good-feeling sustain pedal can help you (or your keyboardist) perform better.
  • It has a polarity switch. Different keyboards are wired with different polarities on the sustain jack, meaning certain sustain pedals will work backwards if they’re the wrong polarity. This little switch solves all that.

3. On-Stage Stands Rack Stand – $26

Equipment Racks are another way to spend money quickly. Sure, nice wooden racks are pretty to look at, but if you really just need a place to rack up your gear on the cheap, this little rack is stellar.

4. Samson BL3 Ultra-Light Boom Stand – $30

Mic stands can be expensive. I had a chance to use one of these recently, and it was great. It’s got nice big knobs for adjusting the boom and angle, and it’s nice and light. You may not want to put a heavy condenser on this guy, but it’s a great option if you need an extra boom stand or two.

5. Furman SS-6B Power Block – $30

So you’ve read my article on the importance of using a power conditioner, but you can’t quite afford one? The SS-6B is a great little option. It has surge protection and some noise filtration for $30. I actually use one of these to power my gear when I play a show.

6. Planet Waves Headstock Tuner – $30

I saw one of these for the first time the other day. It works really well. There are plenty of headstock tuners out there, but this one is very small and light. Also, the display changes color once you’re in tune. Red: out of tune. Green: in tune! Nobody likes to hunt down a tuner in the middle of a recording session. Just slap one of these on the headstock and get back to recording.

7. Auralex MoPADs – $40

If you haven’t already, read my review of the MoPADs. This could easily be the best $40 you’ll ever spend on your studio.

8. Auralex Aural-Xpanders – $50

Keeping with the Auralex theme, this little kit can be very useful. If you’re recording out of a spare bedroom or apartment, you have the distinct pleasure of dealing with all sorts of extra noise. You’ve got noisy neighbors upstairs jumping around, and you’ve probably got a fair share of computer and air conditioner noise. These little foam goodies can help give your microphones a bit more isolation. In addition, the “platfeet” go underneath your mic stand feet, minimizing how much those stomping neighbors make it into your recordings.

9. Whirlwind IMP 2 Direct Box – $50

Whether you’re recording acoustic or electric guitar, or even bass, you need a direct box, or DI. There are some nice $200 direct boxes out there, but the Whirlwind IMP2 is just a nice, simple DI that will work well for years to come.

10. Audio-Technica ATH-M20 Headphones – $50

When you start bringing artists into your studio, you quickly realize your need for extra headphones. While I do love my Sennheiser HD280Pro headphones, it may not be feasible to buy multiple sets. At $50, the ATH-M20 from Audio-Technica are a nice alternative for that extra pair you may need. (And if you only have one headphone jack on your audio interface or mixer, just grab a headphone splitter cable.)

What are some of the indispensable items in your studio? I’d love to hear some other ideas. Leave a comment!

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  •  I also believe that the monitors are an important piece of equipment for a home studio. Mixing is important and good mixing is made with good monitors

  • CamBam

    A windscreen if you don’t have one is good. I really like my Behringer HPS3000 headphones, and they were only $20. In addition, I found this site called foambymail.com, which offers monitor isolation pads for only $10! They sell really cheap acoustic foam too.

  • Harley P Chimp

    Kudos:

    2) The M-Audio SP-2. Yes, there are better ones available, but not for that price! Nice choice. I have a couple of them.

    3) On Stage gear racks. Fantastic money saver!

    6) Planet Waves headstock tuner… another excellent choice for the $.
    It’s ALWAYS good to have a tuner or two handy when recording.

    Disagree:

    1) Pro winder? Learn how to properly string a guitar and you won’t need one
    and your tuning will stay solid for the whole set instead of half a song.

    7) MoPads? Guess what… a small piece of memory foam does nearly the same thing. Yes, the MoPads do it a bit better, but most people don’t have their rooms acoustically treated to the point where you can hear the difference.

    9) DI box? Since most people are using computer interfaces that instruments can directly plug into, what is the point?

    10) headphones? Splurge for the Senheiser HD280’s. I’ve used both (among many others) and I have yet the use a pair that have a better bang for your buck.

    • A DI box will let you record the dry signal from your electric guitar while
      still sending the signal to the amp. This lets you re-amp the signal later
      if needed.

  • Heath Hamlin

    What is the purpose of having a DI box in your home studio? Example?

  • +1 on MoPads as well.

    Another great thing to add to list (and this may sound odd…) are metal windscreens for your mics.

    If you have mics you care about I highly recommend you pick up a metal windscreen. They don’t hurt the quality of the sound but their major benefit is protecting the diaphragm of your mics. Moisture is a huge cause of mic failure and these work wonders.

    Great list. Keep em coming 🙂

    • Metal windscreens are great. A bit expensive, but great.

  • Alfonso

    +1 on MoPads

  • I’m definitely tempted by the MoPads. Quick question: do they stick (permanently) to the base of the monitors? I’m using M-Audio AV40s, but at some point in the future I’d like to upgrade…

    • Nope, the monitors simply rest on top of the Mopads.

    • ps – the headstock tuner and power conditioner are now in my shopping cart:)

    • CamBam

      If you go to foambymail.com, you can get mopads for $10

  • Abraham

    Thanks for the tips. My studio is still too basic for a lot of these though.

    I was just thinking about that rack stand.
    It might make a good article if you wrote about what is the best rackmount gear to have for a studio. Obviously that gets kinda pricey, so it’d have to start out with very basic stuff, like and interface and power conditioner.

    that might just be the GAS talking though

  • Russell Paterson

    I recently bought a pair of Berenger studio monitor speakers for around £50.

  • Lia Abrams

    The MoPads work! Must get!

  • ALRIGHT, already! You’ve talked me into the MoPads. When I buy my monitors at the end of the month, those are coming with them 🙂